Biking in India 1987

October 1987. Edwin Steussy, 24, traveling India by bicycle.

October 1987. Edwin Steussy, 24, traveling India by bicycle.

Alone, in the middle of India, I stand by my bike. It is October 1987. I am twenty-four years old. There is nothing digital in my pockets or sparse backpack. No cellphone, no iPod, no GPS, no laptop. There is no Internet, no Skype, no email; Ronald Reagan is president, the Cold War still rages and Wall Street is days away from a major meltdown.

I stand by my bike. I have a paper map in my pocket, a passport, cash and travelers’ checks in a bag hanging from my neck. No one knows that I am here. There is no way for them to know.

There is more below the fold.


In June 1987, I finish my graduate studies in Political Science in Stockholm and decide to use my remaining funds to travel around the world. I spend the summer on an Inter-rail pass around Europe, visiting Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and a host of other places. In October, half of my monies gone, I board the American Airlines inaugural flight from Frankfurt to Delhi, India with a one-way ticket. Ordering a bike from a dealer there, I spend two weeks traveling the region — seeing the Taj Mahal in Agra and visiting Jaipur in Rajasthan, before returning to pick up my custom built bike with a Taiwan-made derailleur.

I take the bike on the road from Delhi through Uttar Pradesh toward Nepal. Somewhere there, I pause to take an early morning self-portrait, standing on a dam over a tributary of the Ganges. The camera is poised on a dirty shirt across the road and waits ten seconds to take the photo. Click. Only one picture, as film is precious and very expensive. There is no way to know if the photo is good or not; time to pack the camera into the bag and back on the road.

This photo is taken several days into my travel. I average about 100km per day on flat ground, moving from cheap hotel to tea stand to roadside foodstall and finally to a hotel again to spend the night. My toe is injured and has been examined at an amazingly filthy clinic in a small town somewhere on the road. My bag contains a few clothes, a toothbrush, parts of travel guides torn from the full books to save weight, a copy of Crime and Punishment, a camera, extra lens, film and a little black book with the seventy or so addresses and phone numbers of family and friends around the world.

I enter Nepal days later and proceed to Pokhara at the base of the Himalayan Mountains for trekking. There I spend three weeks climbing to the Annapurna Base Camp at 14,000ft. Then back down along the mountain trails to Pokhara and off on the bike again to Kathmandu, there to Bangkok, Koh Samui (before the airport was built), Singapore, Seoul, Taipei, Los Angeles, San Francisco and finally Chicago, seven months after this photo.


Soon after returning from these travels abroad, I sort my 14 rolls of film with 504 photos. I collect the top 40 photos into a slide show and make a few presentations to people. Several of the photos are blown up in my mother’s darkroom and entered in the Indiana State Photography competition. Two of them win ribbons. Sometime after 1988, the carrousel with the top 40 slides goes missing. It’s not where I remember leaving it. There are no copies. Non-digital images don’t have backups. I turn my parents’ house upside down, but it’s not there. It’s still lost, twenty years later. This is one of the photos from the missing batch.

Several prints had been made from the image, including a family calendar, but by 2000 the image was no longer anywhere for us to find. My wife of ten years has never seen it.

In November 2009, relatives from Washington State are on a family finding tour of Wisconsin and visit the original family farm near New Glarus. Going through old photos, Bonnie Steussy and her daughter, Brook Steussy-Edfeldt, find the photo in a pile of family pictures. They like it so much, Brook takes a digital image of the photo. She shows it to me during a Thanksgiving visit and emails it to me over this past weekend.

I receive the image while flying 30,000 feet over Kansas. I have cellphones, laptops, multiple GPS devices; I post regularly on Facebook and my blog. I maintain several websites that receive visitors from every country in the world. I’m in regular email communication with dozens of people across the globe. The digital age is in marvelous full bloom.

I see myself, standing by my bike again. The image is reversed, aged and a fourth generation copy (Ektachrome slide to color negative to color print then photographed by a digital camera). I make minor adjustments in orientation and color, but otherwise post it unedited here.


Today, I am twenty-two years older, almost twice the age I am in the photo. I have a loving wife and four children, all less than six years old. I have run several businesses, in several different countries, learned languages, met people, worked and played around the world. And this photo represents one of the first steps I made into the wider world. I thought I would never see it again.

It’s a wonderful, powerful and thoroughly unexpected Christmas present from a relative who, four months ago, I had no idea even existed. Thank you. Thank you very much.

3 Responses to “Biking in India 1987”

  1. It seems as if you’ve definitely lived your life to the fullest. Great story

  2. […] This is a photo recently rescued of me in India. I lived outside of the United States for about ten years, and this was the biggest adventure in many ways. This photo has been lost for over 20 years and just came back to me. The story is here. […]

  3. […] Unfortunately, the quick scans I have of the sole surviving photo (located at the Freitag family farm in Monticello, Wisconsin) are not detailed enough for a full enlargement. So, I had to add other objects to make an acceptable 5″ x 7″ image — a map and some of the text from my blog post (here). […]

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